MT. TRES MARIAS
Major jumpoff: Brgy. Sampao, Almeria
LLA: 1315 MASL
Days required / Hours to summit: 6-7 hours / 2 days
Specs: Major Climb, Difficulty 5/9, Trail class 2-4
Features: Waterfalls, Stream crossing, Mossy Forest
Beautiful and pristine, held in myths to be a paradise guarded by snakes and spirits, is Mt. Tres
Marias in Biliran island, Eastern Visayas. Endowed with beautiful waterfalls so numerous that locals did not even bother to name each one, and a yet-unravelled biodiversity, it is the highest mountain in Biliran island, and counts also as the highest point in the Biliran complex volcano – one of the active volcanoes in the Philippines. The name ‘Tres Marias’ was drawn from the three peaks that comprise the mountain. The highest, at 1315 MASL, is an emerging hiking destination in the Leyte-Samar area. Possibly, Tres Marias is also the second highest mountain in Region VIII, next only to the veritable Alto Peak.
A typical trek up Mt. Tres Marias coming from Tacloban City is an overnight climb. As one crosses the bridge connecting Biliran Island to Leyte, the looming presence of Mt. Tres Marias and its three peaks are clearly manifest. You will pass by the capital town of Naval before reaching Almeria. The road to Brgy. Sampao – the jumpoff – involves a rightward, ascending road and soon you will pass by the registration area, with a sign that reads “Saka ta bay” (Let us climb!)
Initially the trail is a wide footpath; immediately the streams are visible and you will pass by the waterfalls one by one. The first significant waterfall is Sampawan Falls; followed by the most majestic of them all, Ulan-Ulan Falls. Ulan-Ulan Falls is very photogenic in conjunction with the itinerary because it directly faces west. Hence early afternoon is a great time to take pictures at the falls; it is also the recommended spot to have lunch.
From Ulan-Ulan Falls, the trail proceeds higher to reach further waterfalls such as Recoletos Falls and Nomads’ Falls (named after a Cebu-based group who was among the first to explore the mountain). Both these falls have excellent pools for swimming. Upstream, the trail is the same, and the challenge is to leap from rock to rock to cross the streams. Then, after 3-4 hours of relaxed hiking, you will enter the forest, which is reminiscent of other Visayan forests such as those of Madjaas and Kanlaon’s Guintubdan trail.
In the forest, the myths come to life: indeed there are snakes along the way, ranging from green vipers to cobras; when the blogger climbed Tres Marias in November 2009 he saw at least three serpents. However, the trails, although moderately steep, are remarkably well-established. It takes around two hours from the final waterfall to the Aeta Campsite, making for a total of 5-6 hours trekking time.
The next day, one wakes up early to do a summit assault which requires 90 minutes. From the Aeta Campsite, the trail transitions from woodland to mossy forest. At the upper reaches of the mountain (>1200 MASL), the ecosystem changes. The trees are covered with moss, and pitcher plants (Nepenthes sp.) thrive. At the summit, whose indigenous name is Bilitan, one can have a view of Biliran Island and its other peaks such as Mt. Naliwatan and Mt. Sugo. These peaks are largely unexplored. The trees at the summit are reminiscent of those in Mt. Madjaas’ upper reaches. Yet what is remarkable in Mt. Tres Marias is its ability to achieve such an environment when its elevation is only 1315 MASL.
On the way back, one can take a shortcut that circumvents the waterfalls. The descent thus becomes swifter, requiring only around 4 hours. On the way back, one can take time to visit Biliran’s other wonders. For instance, you can drop by Masongsong Swimming Pool in Kawayan to unwind in its natural spring water. Back in Leyte, you can also visit the two-must see tourist spots of the area: San Juanico Bridge and McArthur’s landing site where his promise of “I shall return” was fulfilled. As your plane leaves Tacloban, you would see a lot of mountains. One cannot help but feel the desire to come back, for indeed Eastern Visayas beckons; it is a place where the spirit of exploration comes alive.
0520 ETA Tacloban from Manila; first flight
0600 Head to Tacloban to Almeria
0900 Buy supplies at Naval, Biliran
1000 ETA Brgy. Sampao, Almeria. Register
1030 Start trek
1230 ETA Ulan-Ulan Falls; Lunch
1400 Resume trekking
1800 Arrival at Aeta Campsite
0500 Wake up call / Light breakfast
0530 Commence summit assault
0715 ETA Mt. Tres Marias summit (1315 MASL)
0800 Start descent
0914 Back at Aeta campsite; Brunch
1000 Start descent
1400 Back at jumpoff
1430 Head back to Masongsong Pool or Mainit Hot Springs
1800 Head back to Leyte
2130 ETA Tacloban City
Transportation. Tacloban City is the closest staging-off point for Biliran climbs; those from Cebu will have to take the fast ferry to Ormoc then take a jeep to Naval. Jeepneys ‘circumnavigate’ the island and it will not be hard to get a jeep to Almeria; and then a tricycle to the jumpoff point.
Logistics. Rene Galleros is the guide to Mt. Tres Marias. If climbing the mountain and for inquiries you may want to contact him at +639106989517. The Nalda Family of Tacloban are also very enthusiastic and generous mountaineers who will be very happy to assist climbers who wish to climb Tres Marias and other mountains in the vicinity such as Alto Peak. Security-wise, Mt. Tres Marias is also safe.
Hiking notes. Swimming in the waterfalls is a must-do so be prepared clothing-wise. Also be vigilant when walking in the trails. Don’t hold on to any stick-looking object unless you’re pretty sure it’s not a snake!
MT. TRES MARIAS PICTURES
Biliran Bridge connects the island province to Leyte and is the literal gateway to a Mt. Tres Marias adventure.
Crossing the streams would require taking long steps / jumps from one stone to another – or allowing your shoes to get wet.
Ulan-Ulan Falls is the most majestic among the waterfalls of Mt. Tres Marias.
Nomads’ Falls is named after a Cebu-based group that was one of the first to explore the mountain; it is an excellent place to take a dip before ascending to the Aeta campsite.
The Aeta Campsite is very scenic, with forest trees that are reminiscent of the Hardin Sang Balo campsite of Mt. Kanlaon’s Wasay trail.
Climbers relax in the stream that characterizes the first two-thirds of the trail up Mt. Tres Marias.
Stunted trees cover the summit of Mt. Tres Marias in the tradition of Mt. Madjaas. Taken from the highest point of the mountain, 1315 MASL, on November 2, 2009.
While in Eastern Visayas, you ought to try out some of the unique items in the region. For instance, you can try tasting tuba during your socials at the camspite. Also, the seafood in Leyte and Biliran is very delicious.
A Mt. Tres Marias Traverse is a distinct possibility, requiring a more intensive overnight climb or three days. The allure of the traverse is the chance to reach more peaks of the mountain; see more flora (orchids are allegedly very beautiful at the far side) as well as see more waterfalls.
The blogger’s account of his Mt. Tres Marias climb is published in Hiking Matters #72.
The blogger thanks the Nalda Family of Tacloban for accomodating him and fellow Visayan Voyager Lalaine Hablado in their Mt. Tres Marias climb last November 1-2, 2009. Hope to see you guys on a future climb!
ADVENTURES IN LEYTE AND SAMAR
Hiking matters #72: Mt. Tres Marias in Biliran Island
Hiking matters #72: Mt. Tres Marias in Biliran Island